European parrots squawk in dialects depending on which city they live in, a new study has revealed.
Researchers found that the calls of wild monk parakeets, a small type of parrot, change from city to city.
The team from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour looked at the birds in cities in Spain, Belgium, Italy, and Greece.
Originally from South America, due to pets escaping and breeding, monk parakeets now exist in huge numbers in several countries in Europe.
The birds have an exceptionally flexible vocal repertoire and can imitate and learn new sounds throughout their lives.
The study’s lead author, doctoral student Stephen Tyndel, said: “Because they spread through Europe only recently, monk parakeets are the perfect test tube for studying how complex communication evolves in a species other than our own.
“Just like humans, monk parakeets in Europe have unique ways of communicating based on where they live.”
The researchers recorded the birds in Athens, Barcelona, Bergamo, Brussels, Legnago, Madrid, Pavia, and Verona to see if the birds had developed dialects for the study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.
A novel statistical method allowed them to test if parrot calls were different from city to city and also if calls were different among parks within the same city.
“We wanted to find out not only if there are different dialects, but at what geographical scale they occur,” said Tyndel.
“We discovered that parrots did have different dialects in each city.”
Fellow doctoral student Simeon Smeele added: “Parakeets in Brussels, for example, had contact calls that were particularly different from those of other cities.
“For the most part, dialects differed in the frequency modulation structure within each call, which is super difficult for humans to hear.”
However although the bird dialects varied from city to city, they remained the same in different parks within the same city.
“Taken together, this suggests that parrot dialects separated early when birds invaded European cities, but then didn’t significantly change further over this time period,” said Tyndel.
“This suggests that dialects came about through a passive process.
“Birds copying birds make small errors and therefore cities slowly become different from each other, or that they were different to begin with, and that these differences were maintained over time.”
However the researchers say that the dialects might also have come about due to an active process of social communication
In parks, monk parakeets live in nests that are highly clustered. The researchers think there might be vocal differences, like slang, at these smaller social units.
Smeele said: “We think that dialects could be used to communicate who is part of what nest cluster, like a password.”
The team will continue to study the parrots and see whether f smaller groups show dialects within parks
“This will add to our understanding of parrot communication and provide insights into the ways in which complex communication is linked to the complex social lives of humans and animals,” said Tyndel.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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